Hakuna Matata: Will’s philosophy
Christmas Day 2004: while most people were opening presents and relaxing poolside with family, five-year-old Will Wright was about to undergo a stem cell transplant.
Two years prior, in January 2002, Will (above, centre, with mum Jennifer and brother Sean) was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) while he and his family were living on their cattle property in Baralaba, 140km from Rockhampton in Queensland.
“We saw a specialist doctor in a nearby town, had blood tests, and the next day it was confirmed Will had ALL,” said his dad Jacko.
“We were told not to let him bump his head or cut himself, as his blood would not clot and he may die.”
Thus began a rigorous travelling and treatment schedule for Will, forcing him and his family to go back and forth between Brisbane and Rockhampton for the next two years.
Will had his first surgery – a bone marrow aspirate and port-a-cath inserted – and started his first round of chemotherapy on his third birthday.
“We eventually relocated to Brisbane for Will’s treatment, but I was constantly travelling back and forth to the property as we were in drought, pumping water and feeding cattle,” Jacko said.
After finally being allowed to go home in August 2002, Will continued chemotherapy for the next 13 months before relapsing in September 2003, forcing the family to move back to Brisbane for more treatment and surgeries.
Once they were able to leave Brisbane again, the family moved to Rockhampton which enabled Jacko to travel back to the property, and for Will to receive treatment in Rockhampton and Brisbane.
In October 2004, Will relapsed again and the family were told he had a 10% chance of surviving. “We packed up again and moved back to Brisbane,” Jacko said. “After lots more chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries we found an unrelated bone marrow donor in the UK and his transplant was scheduled for Christmas Day 2004.”
Will’s parents said their son never complained about anything and would never even say he was sick.
Amazingly, they have also been told that Will was the only child to complete a bone marrow transplant without morphine or a nasal gastric tube.
While in isolation following his transplant in December 2004, he rang in Christmas (his second Christmas spent in the hospital) and his fifth birthday (his third birthday spent in the hospital).
Over the following years Will had dozens of surgeries related to complications from his treatment, around 70 plus procedures to date.
He has had to travel to Brisbane every few months for further treatment and surgeries, which has required stays in nearby hotels and motels, which the Leukaemia Foundation has provided assistance with.
On one Brisbane visit in August 2016, Will’s specialist found abnormal cells in his thyroid that were unrelated to his transplant. It was recommended that Will undergo surgery to remove his thyroid.
“We decided to hold off on the surgery as Will was in grade 12 and wanted to graduate and enjoy his 18th birthday first,” his mum Jennifer said.
After his surgery, Will plans to start university, studying a degree in environmental science and ecology.
Despite his setbacks Will has a positive outlook on life, and has found solace in the phrase “hakuna matata”, from the Disney movie The Lion King.
“Hakuna matata is to be brave in the face of adversity and have the courage to go on even when you are scared to do so,” Will said.
“Let the bad times roll on and enjoy the good times that are ahead.”